Seismograph Network Provides Blueprint for Scientific Cooperation

Neal Lane, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22230
Gordon Eaton, U.S. Geological Survey, Mail Stop 100, National Center, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 22092

In the South Atlantic Ocean near Antarctica, ground motion created by a small, distant earthquake is recorded on South Georgia Island. Within hours of the earthquake, the data are automatically collected and made available to all government scientists and university researchers via the Internet. While near real-time access to seismic data from a remote oceanic island is a great technological accomplishment, the earthquake recorded on South Georgia Island signals a far greater achievement: operation of the 100th station of the Global Seismographic Network.

The Global Seismographic Network is a blueprint for scientific programs that not only advance our understanding of the physical world, but also address the needs of society. Funded by both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Global Seismographic Network is now yielding a multi-use scientific tool that will make it possible for us to explore the Earth's interior, mitigate earthquake hazards, and monitor compliance with the recently signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The 100th station of the Global Seismographic Network, South Georgia Station near Antarctica, is now operational.

The Global Seismographic Network is managed jointly by the USGS and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) Consortium. Under the auspices of the NSF, IRIS represents the collective scientific interests of over 90 universities. The USGS and the University of California at San Diego share responsibility for station operation and maintenance.

Each day, dozens of universities access global seismographic data for both h research and to teach about the structure of the Earth's interior. Each day, the USGS uses the data for rapid earthquake reporting and for earthquake, tsunami, and volcano hazard research. And each day, the 51 Global Seismographic Network stations that are also part of the International Monitoring System confirm the end of nuclear weapons testing.

The multiple applications of the Global Seismographic Network help sustain the interest and support of the network's host countries, more than would be possible for any single-purpose network. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, the Ala-Archa station is supported by the host country because of concern over the earthquake threat to their nation's capitol, Bishkek. The Ala-Archa station, however, is also included in the international monitoring system, thus providing additional coverage for treaty verification that would not otherwise be possible. For the research community, the Ala-Archa station provides data for a broad area of central Asia that was previously inaccessible to western scientists.

Although multi-use scientific resources have both scientific and financial advantages, they have had a tendency to suffer within the federal budgetary process. Despite statements of strong support for science in the Congress and the White House, the requirements for a balanced budget by the year 2002 continue to exert financial strain on the federal agencies that support science. As these agencies adapt to the new financial climate by reaffirming the core activities that define their individual missions, it is all too tempting for both sides of the partnership to lessen their costs by shifting the financial burden to those outside the agency. Programs that cross budgetary boundaries are especially difficult to champion within the context of funding ceilings and Congressional budget authorities, much as interdisciplinary studies sometimes struggle when they fall across the narrow disciplinary boundaries defined by university departments.

To address multipurpose seismological networks, John H. Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, formed the Ad Hoc Working Group on Coordination of Federal Support for International Multipurpose Seismological Networks. The Working Group recognized that the NSF and USGS Network efforts complement each other in terms of collecting data for the various contrasting applications of global seismology. The Working Group recommended that although NSF and USGS might independently support their own efforts within these areas, they should assume a common responsibility for all applications of seismology. The same seismometer that records data for disaster response management and earthquake hazard assessment can also lead to discoveries about the structure and formation of the planet and build international confidence in an arms control agreement. Were it not for such cooperation, the nation would have fewer scientific resources and at greater cost.

The seismograph station on South Georgia Island consists of three sets of seismometers housed in a vault built by the British Antarctic Survey on Hope Point. Together, these seismometers are capable of measuring all of the Earth's vibrations. Low-gain instruments can faithfully record strong ground motions of up to 2 g acceleration from nearby earthquakes. More sensitive, short-period seismometers accurately record small, regional earthquakes. Broadband seismometers record motions over a wide-period range, encompassing seismic disturbances with periods ranging from 1/10 of a second to tens of minutes and even longer-period tidal motions. The various instruments continuously record data at rates of 40 to 100 items per second and synchronize to absolute time from satellite clocks. Scientists can access the data electronically by specifying the timeframe and bandwidth of interest. Like all Global Seismographic Network stations, South Georgia has one suite of instruments producing data for the full range of seismological applications.

The Global Seismographic Network has demonstrated that the response to reduced budgets need not be less science, but rather more cooperation and more creative methods for accomplishing the goals of science. As federally supported scientists, we must look beyond the traditional boundaries of individual agencies and institutions and assume joint responsibility for all applications that benefit society. For, in the end, our ability to support science will be limited not just by federal dollars, but also by our willingness to put the attainment of scientific objectives above the protection and defense of individual budgets.